I cannot help but wonder if Battlefield: Hardline was marketed incorrectly. I don’t have hard data to suggest its sales numbers, but based on my circles of enthusiasts, be it in person, online, or listening to conversations over podcasts, it seems as if response to the game has been lukewarm. Each trailer has sought to showcase the multiplayer and more bombastic aspects of the campaign, neither of which inspired much excitement out of players. The multiplayer was either a cause of concern due to the problematic release of Battlefield 4, or players had fun but generally weren’t quite so impressed.
I understand that the common competitive player that specializes in games like Call of Duty and Battlefield isn’t going to care so much about the campaign. Perhaps that’s part of the problem, though. This game shouldn’t have been marketed to that player, or at least exclusively.
I enjoyed the campaign to Battlefield: Hardline because it used the angle of playing as a cop to differentiate it from every game focused on playing a soldier. It was no realistic portrayal of a cop’s life, no, and it didn’t have the emphasis on investigation that you’d find in L.A. Noire. But the game I played had more in common with Dishonored than Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
Not to oversell the game, either. You won’t find the extensive number of options available as you would in a game such as Dishonored, but Battlefield: Hardline is all about how you want to approach a situation. You can go in stealthily or violently. You can sneakily knock everyone out or you can risk getting caught by making an arrest. While the options are limited, it still allows for a variety of play styles.
Of course, while various play styles are permitted, the risky stealth option is what the designers encourage. The player has a limited set of equipment to choose from at the start, including weapons. In order to increase one’s choice of weaponry, the player must accumulate experience points to increase their “expert rank”. While the player is able to earn points by simply completing objectives, they gain more points for knocking foes out or substantially more by making arrests. Each level will also include key targets with arrest warrants, earning the player the greatest amount of experience.
The player can also gain additional experience by collecting evidence throughout each level for a series of cases, each of which unlocks more equipment upon completion.
In other words, the game rewards players for behaving more like a cop.
Now, not every scenario will be open-ended. Each episode has at least one section that turns into a bit of a shooting gallery. Foes are already alert, and if you try to arrest them you’ll simply get shot. It is in these moments that the stealthy player has the advantage, as they’ll have unlocked more and better equipment for these fire fights.
On the whole, however, environments are more designed as arenas to approach and figure out how to navigate. Find a good spot to survey the environment, spot the alarm system and all sentries standing guard, and make note of any criminals with outstanding warrants. Then slip in and make your arrests.
The narrative is similarly “toned down”, at least compared to the usual blockbuster style stories being told in these games. While most levels end with a big climactic set piece, there’s some level of plausibility. It’s easier to suspend your disbelief since so much of the conflicts are otherwise toned down.
This doesn’t really carry through to the game’s conclusion, however. While the player is free to be sneaky the entirety of the game, the narrative breaks away from where the game starts. Protagonist Nick Mendoza is an incorruptible cop that finds himself in over his head, but he always seems to do things by the book. His final actions feel completely out of character as a result, and it leaves a big gaping question of just who this character is, what they want, and what everything was for. If it was to break this man of anything good in him, then they failed to portray it effectively.
It then makes me wonder who was truly creatively in charge of Hardline. Clearly the game’s outcome isn’t influenced by player behavior, as I arrested almost every criminal I came in contact with. The story starts out as a single cop doing his best to do what is right and just and keep his co-workers accountable, but the latter half of the game swiftly escalates to a level well beyond the level of a cop. It goes from an over-the-top police procedural to a revenge story on a larger scale. While many of the set pieces are enjoyable and even comical, it escapes the entire premise that the game is built off of. Being a cop.
Ultimately this leads to Battlefield: Hardline feeling like a series of challenge maps strung together with an interesting but unsatisfying narrative. If you enjoy forgiving stealth games where being discovered is not an automatic failure, then this game is certainly for you. However, as interesting and enjoyable as this core gameplay is, it’s also nothing special. It’s a cheeseburger, and not even a very adventurous one at that. You’ve played games like this before, and they’ve likely been better.
Which I suppose is the real crux of it. Even if EA had marketed the game better, would it have sold better? Should it have sold better? It’s an enjoyable game but also forgettable. It has some minor replay value, but nothing begging to be seen again. The story is an entertaining enough romp, but it ultimately is meaningless.
There’s an audience out there that can appreciate what Battlefield: Hardline manages to pull together, but I’m not sure there’s an audience that would love it.